By Miles Vance/Pamplin Media
WEST LINN -- The West Linn football team wasn’t going to be denied.
And the Lions weren’t going to leave any doubts.
Considered by many to be Oregon’s best 6A team, West Linn lived up to that and more Friday in the season finale against Newberg, routing the visiting Tigers 33-7 to finish the pandemic-shortened season 6-0.
“It feels great, man. It feels great just to have this last game with my brothers,” said West Linn senior lineman and team captain Zach Holmes. “We knew it was going to be a weird season, but coming out here and leaving our stamp as a really, really good team — it just goes to our mantra, ‘Leave no doubt,’ and I think that's what we did.”
“Our motto all year has been 'Leave no doubt,' and we didn't want to leave any doubts,” said senior running back/linebacker and team captain Gavin Haines, who rushed 19 times for 110 yards and one touchdown, and also picked off a Newberg pass and returned it for another score. “We know we're the best team in the state. We’ve been confident all year so we just wanted to come out today and prove that and I feel like we did, so I'm very happy.”
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had — going out on top with my brothers one last time,” said West Linn senior wide receiver/defensive back and team captain Clay Masters, who caught six passes for 86 yards and two scores, and also picked off two Tiger passes. “With everything we've been through in the last 15 months, I mean, this is everything I could have asked for.”
With the win, the Lions finished their season — the one that was supposed to be played in the fall of 2020 — at 5-0 in Three Rivers League play and 6-0 overall. Also finishing 6-0 among 6A teams were Sunset, Mountain View and West Salem.
While there was no complete playoff run to determine the state’s best big-school team, the Lions felt confident they’d proven their case.
“There's a switch when you're a championship team and there's a switch when you're not — and we hit that this year,” said West Linn senior running back/linebacker and team captain Cole Peters, who racked up 65 yards of total offense and also recorded a number of key defensive plays.
“To get to this last game, to get to this state championship and be able to … play together one last time means the world to me.”
Newberg, meanwhile, saw its five-game winning streak come to an end, but still celebrated its best season in a very long time, going 4-0 in the Pacific Conference and 5-1 overall just three years after a winless TRL season.
“It was a great season. You don’t want to end it like this, but it doesn’t take away from the huge accomplishments we had this year,” said Newberg coach Kevin Hastin. “It’s a measuring stick of where we want to be. We want to beat teams like that. There are times where we were really competing with them tonight, but they just made the big plays.”
The Lions took the night’s opening series and drove 73 yards to score in 12 plays, with Haines carrying eight times for 39 yards, including a 4-yard sprint around left end for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead that took 7 minutes, 6 seconds off the game clock.
Senior quarterback Blake DeBisschop also hit three straight passes on the drive for 26 yards and scrambled for five more.
But Newberg came back with a 71-yard kickoff return by senior Owen Hawley, and six plays later, got its only score on a nine-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Levi Durrell to junior wide receiver Sam Murphy at the left flag to tie the game 7-7 with 2:02 left in the opening quarter.
The Lions responded in-kind, getting a 45-yard kickoff return by Masters, and on second-and-nine, saw DeBisschop connect over the middle with senior wide receiver Aiden Scott for a 45-yard score and a 14-7 lead that West Linn would not relinquish.
The Lions’ defense was stellar the rest of the way, forcing a punt, two fourth-down stops and getting a Masters interception to close out the half. On offense, West Linn scored for the third straight time when DeBisschop connected with Masters for 35-yard score, with Masters making a leaping catch at the right flag for a 21-7 lead that held up until halftime.
Things went from bad to worse for the Tigers in the third quarter, too. There, with Newberg facing a third-and-nine from its own 22, Haines picked off a Durrell pass in the left flat and returned it 28 yards for another TD and a 27-7 lead with 8:30 to go in the third quarter.
Neither team scored again for the next 19:15, with Hawley picking off DeBisschop midway through the fourth quarter and Masters following suit against Durrell with 4:14 left to play.
From there, however, the Lions needed just five plays to score, a series highlighted by Peters’ 56-yard catch-and-run and capped by sophomore QB Earl Ingle’s 21-yard TD pass to Masters at the right flag with just 1:15 left on the clock.
“We were thankful for every game we got to play,” Masters said. “We saw other teams in the league go down with COVID for one or two weeks, you know, so nothing was guaranteed so every single time we got to step out here, we were just grateful for it.”
“We’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve got a lot of speed, like Coach talks about,” Holmes said of Chris Miller. “But the thing that makes us, that sets us apart is, we're family. We've been together since sixth grade. We're just a family. We love each other. We play like that.”
Likewise, Newberg remained proud of its season despite the loss in the finale.
“Our seniors have elevated the program big time. Hat’s off to them,” Hastin said. “I knew they were a special group coming in as freshmen. The commitment that they put toward the program over the four years was just incredible.”
Ryan Clarke contributed to this story